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Potohar’s livestock industry — a story of lost potential

October 05, 2014

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Shah Muhammad stands along with his three calves at Cattle Market in Chakwal.
Shah Muhammad stands along with his three calves at Cattle Market in Chakwal.

Seventy-five years old Shah Muhammad wears a look of desolation as he sits at the cattle market in Chakwal city.The old man holds in his tired hands the ropes of three calves he has raised with much effort and devotion.

He has travelled with his son and the animals from the remote village of Bhallomar, some 65km away and his only hope is to sell the calves for Eidul Azha.

“I must sell these calves so that I am able to get money to plough my land for sowing wheat and to buy seed, but I have now been here for five hours and customers are not ready to offer the right price. It’s all because of unbridled inflation,” he laments, his voice expressing worry.

Shah Muhammad has 20 animals in Bhallomar. Every morning he takes his herd out to graze in the outskirts of his village and returns home on weary legs as the sun is setting.

His son Masood helps him with the work. Out of all his animals only three calves are old enough to be sacrificed this Eid. “I urgently need money so I will sell my calves even at a cheaper price,” he says.

The family owns five cows but they are not able to produce enough milk to be sold. These are Dhanni breed cows which are popular in Potohar but their milk production is low.

“The milk is just enough for the household; we use it to make tea or Lassi,” he says.

Today, most Pakistanis still live in rural areas and rely on livestock rearing as means of sustenance.

Livestock industry is the second largest economic activity in the rural sector after agriculture. Unfortunately most, like Shah Muhammad, work hard to raise their animals but their efforts don’t materialise into sufficient financial gain.

Despite the fact that the country’s livestock industry has great potential and it is located in a region where the effect of climate change is predicted to be in favour of livestock, Pakistan is ranked 19th in terms of meat production with an annual output of only 2.2 million tons. In the three-trillion-dollar halal product industry of the world, the meat sector is worth $600 billion while Pakistan’s share is only $115 million. Due to this poor state of affairs, Pakistan is unlikely to get a place in the World Halal Meat Market in the near future.

From outdated methods of cattle farming to apathy on the part of authorities, the factors putting spanners on the wheels of Pakistan’s cattle industry are numerous. Some factors are cultural.

“There is a strange notion prevalent in our rural society that like agriculture, livestock farming is also the job of an illiterate son,” opines Dr Riaz Hussain, senior veterinary officer in Chakwal.

He explains that the son who does not study is sent into this business by his parents. “In reality this is specialised work needing educated minds but with men having little or no education running this industry, our cattle rearing and farming methods remain outdated,” Dr Hussain added.

A man milks his cow of Dhanni breed. — Dawn
A man milks his cow of Dhanni breed. — Dawn

In the rocky Potohar region people have traditionally kept cows of Dhanni breed, originally from Chakwal. The cows and bulls of this breed are not only beautiful in physical appearance but are also known for their strength. However, in the past this breed considered best for tilling land was kept for this purpose. Today, when tractors are mainly used for tilling land, the sole reason for keeping this breed is tradition. Karah (a bull’show) is also a popular sport in the region and the Dhanni bulls are considered best for this game. But the cows of Dhanni breed do not give enough milk. “People are not ready to replace this breed with any other”, says Dr Riaz Hussain.

People should keep that cow which at least gives 15 litre milk a day and while a goat farm must be started at least with fifty goats”, he recommends.

Additionally, in Pakistan thousands of animals suffer from fatal diseases but are not properly vaccinated.

District Officer for Livestock and Dairy Development Department in Chakwal Dr Syed Kamal Nasir explains: “Whenever our staff members go to the villages on vaccination drives, they have to face lack of cooperation from cattle owners. Some owners say that their animal is healthy and does not need to be vaccinated while some refuse vaccination on the false notion that due to vaccination milk production by the cows and buffaloes would be reduced. Some even say the pregnant animals would miscarry due to vaccination”.

A senior official says that a major problem harming Pakistan’s livestock industry is that our industry does not even have sufficient supplies of vaccine.

“What can be more alarming thing than this that Punjab has only five million doses of Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine (FMDM), the most fatal disease while it requires 71 million doses annually. Such a huge gap between availability and requirement is badly affecting our animals,” says a senior official.

Talking to Dawn, Dr Ahsanul Haq, the Dean of the faculty of Animal Husbandry at Agriculture University Faisalabad says that economic losses due to diseases are very high in Pakistan. “These losses are both in terms of mortality rate and morbidity rate. A comprehensive base line survey is required in this regard,” he suggests.

Listing other major problems he says that limited availability of quality fodder seed and vaccines, a lack of access to markets and farmer’s unawareness about recommended techniques and technologies are having a negative effect on this vital industry.

Another aspect is the abysmal state of slaughter houses and severe shortage of qualified staff.

“To compete with higher global market is yet a dream for us while we recently talked with China, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia in regards of exporting meat but the experts of these three countries have rejected our offer on the grounds that our slaughter houses are not up to international standards,” says a higher official.

Take the instance of Chakwal district where only three slaughter houses are operating in three tehsils. “The district badly needs six more slaughter houses. Such is the case with other districts,” says an official.

Dr Nawaz Saeed the Director General of Livestock and Dairy Development Punjab says that government is doing its best to improve this industry. “Our total meat production from livestock industry is 1031.4 million tons annually, 815.2 of beef and 216.2 of mutton,” he tells.

Published in Dawn, October 5th , 2014